On chicks, cheques and churlish chaps

Well if a major metropolitan newspaper was going to allow a chick to write for it, it was always bound to happen – that’s right, a female columnist giving a non-phallocentric appraisal of Tony Abbott’s ‘signature’ policy of paid parental leave.

Jacqueline Maley of the Sydney Morning Herald, whom I’m hoping appreciates my ironic use of ‘chick’ in the above paragraph (lest I receive a swift knee to the phallo-centre next time we cross paths), did the unthinkable over the weekend.

As a core member of what Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt calls the left – by which, if the ABCs MediaWatch is anything to go by, he vaguely means articulate people unafraid of disclosing their latte habit – Maley dared to take on her own readers, and the real left (the unions), by praising the policy as a step forward for feminism.

Where, asked Maley, were the socialists and feminist voices that should be congratulating Abbott for making nearly all new mothers better off? The business community does not want the scheme, but that does not usually stop the left praising such wealth redistribution.

Maley’s ability to resist group-think on this issue is admirable. Despite the best efforts of ideologues on both sides of politics, real reform tends to take the path of pragmatism, rather than transposing pages of dusty economics texts directly into Australian society.

I’ll admit that in past columns I’ve criticised the scheme as unaffordable, given that the federal budget is about to lurch $18 billion into the red in a year when it was supposed to deliver a $2 billion surplus – and given that corporate Australia’s profits are way out of kilter with the valuations they are being given by safe-haven investors through the ASX.

But Maley makes one overwhelmingly good point about the ‘millionaire mums’ scheme that taxes big companies 1.5 per cent of profits to pay for mums earning up to $150,000 to receive full pay for six months – hardly any women earn anything like that. She records that only 1.47 per cent of women earn over $100,000.

So are we to make policy based on our envy for a tiny minority, or for our hopes for the prosperity of the many? Unfortunately, the fixation on the rich few infects left ideology to such an extent as to threaten the prosperity of all.

Take, for instance, the reaction to the Coalition’s plan to develop northern Australia (not so much a plan as a vague ambition at this stage). Critics claimed it was all about making Gina Rinehart richer, but failed to engage with the idea that better infrastructure, more tourism, larger regional centres, diversification into new agribusiness ventures might actually be good for the economy and national security more generally.

So what’s stopping the left supporting Abbott? Essentially it’s the long-term strategy within Labor of painting him as a woman-hater based on a long history of outdated or clumsy utterances on issues such as abortion, contraception and the role of women in society – topped off by his damning “this government should have died of shame” comment in parliament last year that turned Julia Gillard’s impassioned ‘misogyny speech’ into a global YouTube and news media hit.

Abbott’s policy may be a cynical attempt to repair that damage with female voters, and judging by the opinion polls it seems to have done so. But a consistent left ideology would welcome it, no matter who put forward the policy. If Christine Milne suddenly came out in favour of nuclear power, wouldn’t proponents of that technology be shouting it from the rooftops?

Within the Coalition ranks it took right-wing upstart Alex Hawke to bell the cat, telling The Age that “people are pretty realistic that we can't afford big new taxes and levies at the moment”.

His comments are reminder that Abbott, as a policy pragmatist, is going to face a tough time mediating between wet and dry economic thinkers in his own party if he wins government. Right ideologues will put immense pressure on Abbott to deliver the fiscal restraint he is promising, and relieve business of any pressures he possibly can.

More moderate voices, and there are many, will see the folly of slashing spending into a downturn, and will accept the 1.5 per cent slug to big business as a bitter political necessity – despite the fact that the Coalition is counting on those same businesses to expand and take up the economic slack from lower public spending

It’s good to hear all sides of this debate, so Hawke should be applauded for speaking out. However for those who have remained silent, Maley’s article is a reminder that hypocrisy is wrong whichever side of the political divide you’re on. 

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Anonymous,

If Abbott's objective in this was to sway female voters, he's failed miserably. The punters actually PREFER Labors much less generous and means tested scheme. On most grounds other than social policy (still iffy) this policy doesn't stack up. Certainly to impose a new tax on big business, to fund this is in direct conflict with all othe Liberal policy platforms. For those that actually work inside the big businesses themselves, big business like BHPB and Woodside, already fund their own very generous schemes, paying 16 to 20 weeks at full pay! That's not capped at $150 k either...

I agree that this is an Abbott policy, poorly conceived, poorly executed, not developed in consult with the party room, which conflicts with everything the Libs stand for..

Anonymous,

If only 1.47% of women earn over $100,000, then why is it so important to shape this policy to include them?

Anonymous,

What I'd like to know is the detail of this policy. For instance how long do you need to be employed for, before you are elligable for this scheme? Also, say I'm employing my partner as a book keeper for my business, and she receives a large pay rise (for doing a great job) just before she goes on maternity leave, will her new salary be honoured? If this scheme is not heavily regulated, I'm all for it!

Anonymous,

Tim, at least some of your answers are at http://www.liberal.org.au/sites/default/files/ccd/Paid%20Parental%20Poli...

To qualify, a mother must have:
• been engaged in work continuously for at least 10 out of the 13 months prior to the birth or adoption of the child;
• worked at least 330 hours in the 10 month period (an average of around one day of paid work per week); and
• not have worked between the date of birth or adoption of the child and the nominated start date for Paid Parental Leave

Anonymous,

Thanks for that. Now I just need to know when this policy will be legislated so I can plan all this better?
It would also be nice to know what the managing director of Coles thinks of this policy now that big business will not receive a 1.5% tax cut in 2013/14? And whether he is more concerned about electricity prices or PPL, as this was a point of concern in their policy?

Anonymous,

Interesting article Rob, specially
"Within the Coalition ranks it took right-wing upstart Alex Hawke to bell the cat, telling The Age that “people are pretty realistic that we can't afford big new taxes and levies at the moment”.
Well I agree, voters have realised that new taxes will take us closer to Europe pub with no growth they cannot escape from in Europe, so it is nice to pull the alarm bell, any side of politics should abstain from raising taxes at this critical point.

However I cannot agree with this one:

"His comments are reminder that Abbott, as a policy pragmatist...."
Any one making policies on the run is not realy making anything strategic for the nation.

Anonymous,

Any one voting for the coalition in term of policies, must have translated the coalition slogans using a Monty Python's dictionary, all the one who wont vote for Labor have already assumed the other side is not the Holy Grail.

Anonymous,

An excellent article Rob. It's a pleasant change to see a rare few who are prepared to - publicly - fly contrary to their own previously-argued positions, and especially, contrary to the blinkered expectations of what positions should be adopted by someone identifying with some conceptual "side" or another. Well done you. Particularly for the closing observation, that "hypocrisy is wrong whichever side of the political divide you’re on".

FWIW, I personally disagree with all the PPL schemes variously presented, and "yes", for an ideological reason: I see all such schemes as simply further mechanisms for supporting the global debt-finance industry. I have no gender- or religious-based objection to women's equality, and particularly in the workforce. However, I do see the whole "Helping women get/stay in/get back to work" meme as having been highly conducive to several decades of enormous growth in the size/power/control of the banking sector -- the now-"necessity" for our "modern" dual income households -- and therefore, see PPL as only helping to sustain the (unsustainable) global private debt bubble. Every adult, male and female, a wage-slave to the banks. My 2c worth.

Anonymous,

As Hawke pointed out; how will this PPL policy support higher levels of growth, for example?

I am more in favor of PPL policies that support female participation - post children. Jess Irvine wrote about it and included Warren Buffett's recent opinion on the matter: http://www.news.com.au/opinion/a-mans-got-to-know-his-limitations/story-...

The way to keep women progressing in their careers is not enabled, this day in age, solely by a government paying them more whilst on maternity/parental leave for 6mths, and taxing businesses for this purpose. Parental-workforce polices should be about making it easier for businesses to support careers of working parents. PPL is short term and is not necessarily an 'enabler' of ongoing participation.

Anonymous,

If you put the policy in simple context as Tony Abbott did it makes perfect sense and nobody can argue against it. Tony pointed out that if men get full pay to go on holidays and full pay for sick leave then why shouldn't women get full pay for maternity leave.As for the cost all good things cost money.